Saturday, December 30, 2006


It pays to weigh in

The local “educational” TV station (WNYE) carries news broadcasts from a number of countries, including Italy, Russia, Poland, and France. The French news, their regular 8 p.m. news broadcast on the France2 channel, is shown with English subtitles, and I like to watch it. It gives a different slant on the international news than we get here, it gives European news that's covered sparsely or not at all here, and it gives news about politics, society, and events in France that are interesting to see. And it helps me learn more French.

To that last point, my French is nowhere near up to the task of understanding the news without the subtitles, so I rely completely on those translations for the news, while listening to the spoken French and learning a little here and there. Once in a while, the translations have an error, or they leave off a significant point — and I'm pleased with myself when I can understand enough to notice this. But the subtitlers do an excellent job, and they're valuable to me.

I was upset, then, when in mid-December I started seeing this subtitle at the end of the broadcasts:

English subtitling of this program will end on Dec 31.
There's an email address shown on the screen (“news(at)”), and so on the 20th of December I wrote them email, basically saying what I said above, and adding that I understand that they probably need to cut expenses, but without the subtitles I'd probably stop watching, and that would be a pity.

On the 21st of December, while anchor David Pujadas was telling viewers about the day's football matches, the subtitles did not translate him, but instead said this:

We apologize for sacrificing tonight's sports news, but we wish to inform our viewers that the subtitling of this regular newscast will end on December 31st. The entire team would like to thank you for your letters of support.
Since then, I've seen the following progression of end-of-broadcast subtitles:
22 Dec: The subtitling of this newscast has been given a reprieve. We were informed that it will continue for a few more months.

23 Dec: Captions: McGovern, LaCour, Conrade & Quidet. We thank you for writing.

26 Dec: The subtitlers appreciate your support.

28 Dec: The subtitlers thank you again for your letters...

29 Dec: Regarding the future subtitling of this newscast, we'll try to keep viewers who've written us abreast of developments.

Of course, my letter, alone, did nothing. But as one voice among many, it participated in demonstrating a demand for the service, and played a part in getting it reinstated, at least for a while. That's the same reason I write to my legislators, participate in protest marches, and vote — and one reason I write here.

It's one voice in the wilderness, but in the aggregate those voices can change things. It pays to weigh in.


Jim Fenton said...

I wish we had more subtitled (not dubbed) programs available. While on a trip to Sweden some years ago, I remember asking how the Swedes spoke such excellent English. My host replied that they watched movies on television, which were in English and subtitled in Swedish.

I also think it's important for those of us in the US to be exposed to news sources from abroad. I used to listen to BBC radio, and now can enjoy their excellent podcasts. Link TV offers an excellent program called Mosaic which is a compilation of Middle East news sources translated into English. It's hard listening, but what news from the Middle East isn't these days?

Even when the news sources may seem slanted to our ears, it's important to know what the people in other countries hear, because it shapes their opinions and behavior.

Riley Merrick said...

I too like to watch the French news, courtesy of WYBE, and I was thrilled to see the subtitles continuing in the New Year. I'll add my voice as well!

It truly is eye-opening to see what other news outlets have to say about world events. I heard about NASA's plans for the moon from France 2 before I heard it on the US news -- and in more detail, to boot.

anita said...

A member of the subtitling crew weighs in: Thanks for supporting our subtitles. Your letters definitely raised our morale. It looks like we're good to the end of 2007 - mainly because it was so shortsighted of them to fire us with two weeks' notice, and they were going to owe us a fortune in damages. It has been a battle... We are generally perceived to be collateral losses due to the launch of France 24, which offers an entirely different type of programming, and currently airs only in New York and Washington. Stay tuned for our project to Webcast Le Journal Sous-Titré.

Kristen said...

Are you still watching Le Journal? I thought I saw they were going to end the subtitling again at the end of 2007.

Barry Leiba said...

I am still watching it, though I've missed it a lot lately because I've been travelling and busy. I haven't yet seen any confirmation that the subtitles will go away in 2008, so we'll see.....

Anonymous said...

I enjoy watching the French news with english subtitles. I'm too old to learn a language. Have the Japanese invented a gadget to remedy this problem?

Anonymous said...

I read at the end of the news this week (Dec. 24, 2007) that subtitling will end next week. We must start emailing again. I will hate it if the subtitling is ended. I will not be able to understand 20 percent of what is on the news.

Joe from South Philly said...

I am really upset about the loss of the sub-titles... Iturned my back on the program ... but now watch it any... I get what is being said even though I dont speak French...
Wish we had the subtitles back!